The plane has just touched down. You are scared. You are nervous. But most of all you are excited to be returning home. The minutes waiting to deplane feels like days, even years. Those minutes capture everything building up to this moment. The dream, the difficulty of leaving, and the realization that you have landed in Israel for the first time not as a tourist, but as a citizen. As you walk down the stairs onto the tarmac, you throw yourself on the ground, kissing the place.
Every year Nefesh B’Nefesh holds two charter flights from New York to Israel in the Summer. Now is the time to start thinking about if you will be boarding the next flight in July. But you may be thinking to yourself, why would I, a leftist American Jew, who does not believe in the right wing policies of the State, wish to move to Israel?
The answer is simple: Israel is the center of world Jewry. In America, we can only relate to Israel and its policies on a superficial level because we are not there. As Goldstein argues “Jewish life in the diaspora must accept [Zionist] influence.” In America, we have no ability to take part in the conversation. We cannot publicly criticize Israel on account of the fact that we do not bear the responsibility of our words. It is not our children who may die because we have argued for more laxed security in hopes for a higher quality of life of Palestinians.
As American Jews we do not get to play a role in the development and continuation of the State of Israel. We have no representation in law making within the Jewish State. This is increasingly significant as Israel is the only place in the world where Jews are autonomous and have their own government.
As I contemplate the possibility that I will one day make this move, I struggle to reconcile that Israel has become a place where I feel progressively more uncomfortable. Its attitudes towards religious pluralism, Palestinians, African migrant workers and international relations (to name just a few) are policies which I find morally upsetting and wrong. Yet this does not cause me to break my ties with the State of Israel. Quite the opposite. It compels me to become further involved. After all it is the homeland decreed by God. And more importantly it is the only place that Jews can express themselves, as a collective, on a state level and this must be done rightfully.
It is our duty to become part of the conversation. It is our duty to advocate for religious pluralism. It is our duty to advocate for the Palestinians right to live. It is our duty to advocate for the end of the occupation. It is our duty to advocate for the end of racism towards African Migrants. But it is also our duty to bear the consequences of taking those positions and this can only be done living within Israel.
Therefore, leftists American Jews need to make Aliyah.
Many great American Jewish thinkers such as Lewisohn and Kaplan have believed that they could enter the conversation about Zionism and Israel from America. While this is a nice idea, it does not hold water. The State of Israel has always attempted to curb influence from Jews not living in Israel. This still holds true today. If an Israeli citizen, who was a soldier in the Israeli Defence Forces, wants to vote in Israeli elections outside of Israel, they cannot. As soon as one leaves the state, they give up their right to be a part of public opinion. When Netanyahu took the podium in congress this year, and spoke about Iran as trying to annihilate the Jewish people, he spoke as the leader of world Jewry not the leader of Israel. Like it or not, The State of Israel does not allow American Jews a seat at the table. We must go there to become a part of the conversation.
While we may not all have the same experience touching down in Israel on our Aliyah flight, it is imperative that we make Aliyah to join the conversation. Left leaning American Jews, Israel is at a crossroads and we must ensure she continues to be a democratic, equal country for all her citizens. Israel was conceived under the idea that it would be a ‘light unto the nations’ and it is vital that it returns to those ways. As David Hartman famously said about his decision to make Aliyah, “Israel is too important to be left to the Israelis.”